He’s playing our song
By JOHN SWIFT
If on-line magazines had a soundtrack or a theme song, Louis Armstrong would provide ours. A fine example of a certain style of songs from Armstrong’s repertoire, the song Home Fires provides an experience of eccentricity and of being at home physically, mentally and spiritually that we like very much, here at the world headquarters of WisdomFishing.com.
The combination of Armstrong’s gravel-road voice with the perfect pitch and virtuosity of his trumpet juxtapose to produce a complexity of genuine and good feeling. Armstrong displayed an infectious and engaging charisma that spreads from his songs.
This is a man at home with himself and his songs invite us to share that place and peace of mind. This is the hallmark of Armstrong’s musical works.
To say that the music is engaging is an understatement. The music intuitively pulls us in and captures the imagination. The words define and specify the emotional direction and mood fostered by the song. The songs define situations and explore their corners, nooks and crannies, pluses and minuses. We are led to explore our feelings or to imagine what our feelings might be in the situation described.
There is something about Armstrong’s approach that makes it difficult for us to imagine women relating to these songs in the same way that men might. The gently stoic introspective place where the songs come from and the sense of self-deprecating humor seem natural to the men around here. Who knows what women think (ever).
It is difficult to say much new about Louis (pronounced Lewis) Armstrong. His story has been well documented and his quiet but consistent contribution to African Americans is well appreciated. History has been kinder to Armstrong than his contemporaries were. He was persistent, strong and articulate. In thought, speech performance and actions, he made an enduring contribution to the social change that continues. Armstrong’s criticisms of Eisenhower were, in their day, startling.
His art endures. Introduced to a new generation as the ironic soundtrack to horrifying scenes of military devastation in the film Good Morning America, Armstrong’s song What a Wonderful World has become iconic. It is a powerful moment.
Armstrong experienced the good and bad of life. A difficult youth in a broken background provided a foundation to be overcome. Strength, conviction and a devotion to excellence. The gentle humor that runs so thoroughly and is so deeply embedded in his music is a delight.
Armstrong brought to life a wonderful sense of the power of emotions, of personal attraction and of goodwill. The song There Must Be A Way is powerful poetry and a gentle love song that cannot fail to please. The blues songs gently, firmly, credibly, often humorously and, finally, sadly express and embody the melancholy, if not angst, of a broken heart. A great example of this is the song I Guess I’ll Get The Papers And Go Home.
For anyone the recently (2009) published Pops, A Life of Louis Armstrong by Terry Teachout is a terrific book. The book has been described as “the definitive word on Louis Armstrong for this generation.” In his afterword, Teachout quotes Bing Crosby’s letter to Lucille Armstrong after Louis died: “…I know of no man for whom I had more admiration and respect.” One of the purposes of this book is to explain to a new generation why those words still ring true. To be sure, much has been written about Armstrong’s life and work, some of it penetrating and perceptive. Yet this is, surprisingly, the first fully sourced biography of Armstrong to be written by an author who is also a trained musician.” And it shows.
Louis Armstrong’s influence on American music would be hard to overstate. His version of Hello Dolly knocked the Beatles out of the No. 1 spot in 1964 , a position they had occupied for six weeks. He was 63 at the time.
Respect for him was ubiquitous. At his funeral, His honorary pallbearers included New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, New York Mayor John Lindsay, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Guy Lombardo, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Pearl Bailey, Count Basie, Harry James, Frank Sinatra, Ed Sullivan, columnist Earl Wilson, comedian Alan King, Johnny Carson, David Frost, Merv Griffin, Dick Cavett and trumpet player Bobby Hackett.
From his songs, everyone will have favorites. The discography is, fortunately, extensive. Armstrong’s wonderful sense of pitch hits the personal “right” notes with precision and timing and the sandpaper voice grips warmly. These are songs to be at peace with, to inspire and to enjoy.
Thank you Mr. Armstrong.